Skip to page content

Speech – "State of the ATO"

"State of the ATO"
Teri L. Bristol, National Harbor, MD
October 19, 2016

2016 ATCA Conference

Thank you, Pete. I’m glad to be here. I have some news to share with all of you. And this might come as a really big surprise. 

No one talks about this. 

And it’s never on the news. 

But, we have a national election coming up. I know that wasn’t on your radar. It’s a big shock. But trust me, I looked it up, and it’s happening on November 8th.

And whether it’s a race for President, Congress, state, local, PTA, condo association, every campaign is trying to answer the exact same question, “How do we get our message out?”

We’re asking that question at the FAA – “How do WE get OUR message out, about the progress being made?” 

Sure, wedo Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, but nothing beats telling you face-to-face. And one of the best places to do it is right here at ATCA. 

So today, I want to give you theState of the ATO. And my message is simple: We’re making great progress on many fronts.

We’re improving NAS performance.

Delivering benefits through NextGen.

And integrating drones and rockets into the airspace system.

I’ll talk about each of these three areas. Let’s start with improving NAS performance, which includes our efforts to reduce safety risk. 

A common analogy in aviation safety is to compare the occurrence of accidents to the holes lining up in a block of Swiss cheese. If we change one factor, the holes don’t line up, and the accident doesn’t happen. We’re committed to preventing even two holes from lining up. 

Our approach can be summed up in three words: Collect, Find, Fix. We collect data from many sources including voluntary safety reports by pilots and controllers, automated data gathering tools, and other sources. 

We analyze this data to find potential hazards, by identifying unsafe trends, causal factors and precursors to accidents. 

Then we fix the problems by implementing corrective actions that are measured and monitored to ensure effectiveness. 

One of the best ways we employ Collect, Find, Fix is our Top 5 Hazard list. This past fiscal year, we developed 26 corrective actions to address potential risks associated with helicopter operations, visual scanning by controllers, and access to weather information for controllers, along with two potential hazards associated with wake turbulence. 

For Fiscal Year 2017, we’re tackling potential hazards involving: close encounters between IFR and VFR aircraft, NOTAM issuance and cancellation, NOTAM prioritization and filtering, runway flyovers, and aircraft landing on the wrong runway or taxiway, or at the wrong airport.

This is the sixth year that we’re using the Top 5 Hazard approach. Each year, we refine our data collection and analysis.  And each year, we gain new insights.    

With regard to runway safety, we’re implementing the corrective action plans developed from last year’s Call to Action with the aviation community. Many of you may have participated in that event. These corrective actions including things like:  

  • Enhancing the information provided to pilots and vehicle operators about surface construction projects. 
  • Providing better guidance, training and alert technology for vehicle drivers.
  • And we’re exploring voice recognition technology that would give an immediate warning to a controller if they instructed a pilot to proceed onto a closed runway.

These proactive investments – safety data collection, analysis, collaboration with stakeholders – are all yielding bigdividends.  We’re making our outstandingly safe aviation system, even safer!

We’re also using data to make the NAS more efficient.  Two months ago, we started a nationwide initiative called PERTI. It stands for: Plan, Execute, Review, Train and Improve. 

Through PERTI, we’re looking at how NAS resources, processes and systems are managed and how they can be improved.  

You could think of it like football. Teams put together a game plan several days before the game. 

Then they execute the plan on game day.

Then on Monday morning, they look at the tape to see how well it worked and what could’ve been done differently. 

PERTI is like that for the NAS. We want to move our daily air traffic planning up a few days. This gives our customers more lead time so they can better manager their resources. 

Then after we execute the plan on a given day, we will assess how it worked, and determine its impact and what, if anything, could have been done differently. Once reviewed, the plan is documented and used to train our workforce, so that we can make improvements in the future.

Earlier this year, we tested elements of PERTI at the three major airports in the New York area (Newark, Kennedy, LaGuardia). We found fewer operational disruptions, and we received positive feedback from stakeholders. Now that PERTI’s implemented NAS-wide, we look forward to seeing greater improvements.    

But we want to go beyond the NAS. After all, benefits shouldn’t stop when you get to an airspace boundary. 

We’ve been working with our Caribbean partners to improve air traffic performance in that region. We expect traffic to grow between 5-8% in this region in the coming years. 

More specifically, we want to develop ways for the regional air traffic service providers to more efficiently exchange air traffic data and establish more common situational awareness. We think it can be especially beneficial for an area like the Caribbean with multiple States in close proximity and multiple Flight Information Regions. 

In support of this effort, the FAA and CANSO have established a joint Air Traffic Flow Management Data Exchange Network for the Americas. It’s called CADENA, which fittingly, means “chain” in Spanish. The Caribbean is a chain of islands, and we’re also trying to link up more effectively, so the acronym works on two levels. 

As part of this work, we’re planning to stand up a recurring operations conference call for the Caribbean region by the end of the year. 

This will allow regional air traffic providers to engage in collaborative decision making so we can better balance air traffic demand with capacity. As things move forward, we will incorporate the airlines and other airspace users to the call.

So as we take steps to improve daily NAS performance, we’re also on track to meet the major NextGen air traffic management objectives by 2025.

I talked earlier about the importance of getting our message out – because if you listen to some of our critics, you might not think we’re making progress.

But let’s look at the facts.

We recently celebrated the completion of automation upgrades at our 11 largest TRACONs. This was done on time, within budget, and in collaboration with labor and industry.  This effort builds on the successful completion of the En Route Automation Modernization last year. And these upgrades will serve as NextGen’s core foundation for decades to come. 

Today, we can tell with a greatdegree of accuracy the current location of an aircraft. But when NextGen is fully implemented, we’ll be able to tell with pinpointaccuracy where that aircraft will be at any point in time along its flight. This time-based system will have a tremendous impact on our ability to manage traffic efficiently. 

I look forward to that. But in the near-term, we’re working hard to deliver NextGen benefits. We’re doing it by working closely with industry, through the FAA’s NextGen Advisory Committee. Together, we crafted the NextGen Priorities Joint Implementation Plan to make near-term progress in four key areas. 

I’ll discuss each area in a moment, but let me say that this process has served us well. To date, we’ve completed 103 planned commitments and we’ve just extended the plan through 2019. 

These are not in rank order. But the first NextGen priority I want to discuss has to do with increasing the use of Performance-Based Navigation, which is a key part of the FAA’s Metroplex initiative to reduce congestion in busy metro areas. 

We have 11 active or completed Metroplex initiatives across the country. 

We’re in the process of publishing PBN procedures in Charlotte and Atlanta. 

And we recently published our PBN NAS Navigation strategy, a 15-year plan to transition to PBN as the primary means of navigation in the United States.

A second NextGen priority is to improve operations on the airport surface. We’ve established agreements with air carriers to receive 11 surface data elements from them. One of these elements is Earliest Off Block Time, or EOBT, which helps us to update our departure times so we can better model system demand and make surface operations more efficient. 

These efforts will be leveraged into our Terminal Flight Data Manager, or TFDM, program. TFDM will allow airspace users to share up-to-date automated information such as a flight’s readiness to depart and taxi information for each aircraft.  With this tool, controllers can better manage the efficiency of departure queues and decrease the time the aircraft spends waiting to taxi. In 2019, we plan to start deploying TFDM at airports around the country.

A third near-term NextGen priority is to make multiple runway operations more efficient. As part of this effort, we’ve now safely reduced wake separation standards at 27 airports around the nation. 

For instance, at Memphis Airport, FedEx is getting a 17 percent capacity gain, a three-minute reduction in taxi-out time, and a 2.5-minute reduction in approach time. They’re saving more than 10 million gallons of jet fuel and they’ve reduced carbon dioxide emissions by more than 100,000 metric tons.  To put it differently, FedEx has stated they’re getting 14 days of flying for free. 

Finally, a fourth priority is Data Communications. We’ve now deployed Data Communications departure clearance service at 48control towers, and we’re 24months ahead of schedule.  More than 13,000 air traffic operations per week benefit from this capability.

We’re on track to have Data Comm operational at more than 50 airports in 2016, and in 2019, we’ll start to deploy Data Comm in our en route centers.

We’re very encouraged by the way industry has equipped for Data Comm. In fact, JetBlue told us their equipping their fleet with Data Comm. And they told us why they’re doing it.  They said they saw the progress the FAA was making. And they could see the benefits they would accrue over time.    

We estimate that Data Comm will save operators more than $10 billion over the next 30 years – along with saving the FAA about $1 billion.

Operators are also equipping with ADS-B, as required by the FAA’s 2020 mandate. The airlines have shared plans to equip 90% of the air carrier fleet. 

And last month, we launched a financial incentive for general aviation aircraft owners to equip early, and we’ve have had a strong initial response.

As you can see with NextGen –

The ground systems are being putting in place. 

The cockpit systems are being put in place. 

And when all planned NextGen improvements are made, we estimate more than $160 billion in benefits including savings in time, fuel,and crew and maintenance costs,as well as fewer emissions and increased safety.

As we look forward to realizing these benefits, we know that risks can come from introducing these new innovations into the NAS. Along with safety risk management, we’re taking proactive steps to ensure cyber security. 

We just stood up a new NAS Cybersecurity organization. In addition, we’re working with the FAA’s NextGen office to develop an enterprise level threat model to identify and assess the risk of potential cyber threats.

Day by day, NextGen is revolutionizing the airspace system.   

But we have another big effort going on now – drones and rockets.    

On August 29, the FAA’s small UAS rule went into effect.  It allows drones weighing less than 55 pounds to fly up to 400 feet above ground level in uncontrolled airspace, and in controlled airspace with the FAA’s permission. 

Throughout the fall, we will be phasing in authorizations of drone use for each airspace class.  

And we’re developing a series of metrics to collect data on authorization requests, enabling us to measure and fine tune the process as we move forward. 

And just like with NextGen, we value the input and collaboration of our stakeholders. We’re working with the FAA’s Drone Advisory Committee or DAC. It’s a 35-member group representing the interests of industry, labor, and academia.  The DAC will help us prioritize and address the key issues affecting the integration of UAS into the airspace system. 

We’re also working with industry and other federal agencies on what we call Counter UAS, an effort to detect unauthorized drone operations near airports and in unauthorized airspace. We have to determine the roles and responsibilities regarding use of these technologies in airport and air traffic operations. We’ve already tested some of these technologies at JFK and Atlantic City airports, and we’re planning to conduct a pilot program at two major airports by next summer.    

It’s important that the ATO be fully engaged in these efforts. Ultimately, air traffic controllers will be addressing the impact of UAS on manned aircraft operations in the NAS. We must make sure our controllers get the training and tools they need.

We’re also working to safely integrate commercial space operations into our airspace. Today, we’re talking about two or three dozen launches a year. But within several years, we could see multiple launches per day. 

Currently, we accommodate these operations by blocking off airspace. As they increase, we’ll have to move from accommodation to integration, meaning that we take into account the needs of all airspace users – just as we are doing with unmanned aircraft. 

In November, the FAA expects to complete our Commercial Space Integration Roadmap that will define changes in airspace usage policy, regulation, procedures and automation capabilities, and determine the schedule by which these changes will be made.  

The FAA is prototyping a technology called the Space Data Integrator, or SDI. We believe this tool will help us determine how much airspace we have to block off in advance to ensure a safe operation, and how we can more efficiently release the blocked airspace so it’s available for other users.

Before I close, let me touch on funding. The FAA’s funding has been extended until this December 9th. And Congress extended our authorization until September of 2017.  We’re still concerned that it doesn’t provide us with the long term stability we need to effectively manage and implement our modernization efforts and other key initiatives. 

But while we wait to see what comes next, let me say that I’m very proud of the work we do.

Today, we’re moving about 50,000 flights. 

We’re providing services for more than 2 million passengers. 

We seamlessly manage civilian and military aircraft.

We’re controlling air traffic over 31 million square miles of airspace – over big cities, over vast oceans, and through all kinds of weather.   

We’re doing it safely. We’re doing it efficiently. And tomorrow, we’ll do it all over again. 

I’m looking forward to being here all afternoon, seeing the exhibits and talking with many of you.